Wednesday, August 20, 2014

So I accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge ...

... after having pointed out the ethical problems in donating to the ALSA, the main recipient of donations from the viral social-media phenomenon.

Fr. Michael Duffy mentioned the John Paul II Medical Research Institute as an acceptable alternative.

So, after the Sunday evening Mass, I gathered a few folks, and this is what ensued.

Today, I am finally getting around to sending off that check to the JP2MRI ... and guess what, they're getting more than expected traffic on their website. I suspect it's because of the increased publicity they're getting. Cool!  

Google gives the address of the JP2MRI as

540 E Jefferson St, Iowa City, IA 52245

Send them a check! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Centenary of the Death of Pope St. Pius X

August 20 marks the centenary of the death of Pope St. Pius X (reigned 1903-1914). A simple parish priest, who was later elevated to the episcopacy, made a Cardinal, and then Patriarch of Venice, and eventually was elected to the Throne of St. Peter (after the last exercise of the Imperial veto prevented the favorite, Cardinal Mariano Rompolla from being elected), he never forgot his experience as a parish priest. He had a burning love for the Most Holy Eucharist, and it was his desire that children receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament early, at the age of reason, that led to the current shape of the Sacraments of Initiation by children in the Western Church -- Baptism, First Holy Communion followed by Confirmation. He was an ardent reformer (his motto, "Omnia Instaurare in Christo" -- "To restore all things in Christ"), with a real love for the liturgy: he promoted Gregorian chant (which was not much in use in his day -- that hasn't changed) as the music native to the Roman Rite, as well as the Breviary, while commissioning a new translation of the Vulgate, a Catechism and the codification of Canon Law (which work was completed by his successor, Benedict XIV in 1917, giving the Church the first ever Code of Canon Law). A staunch defender of true doctrine, he combatted various modern philosophical and intellectual errors, with the encyclicals Lamentabili Sane Exitu (1907) and Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1910), as well as introducing the Oath against Modernism. He dreaded the coming of war to Europe, and died heartbroken a few weeks after it started. He was canonized in 1954, in a ceremony with nearly 800,000 attending, by Pope Pius XII.

[A short online biography of the saintly Pope.]

1954 was also the year in which the Diocese of Atlanta was formed from the 71 northern counties of the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta (the co-Cathedral being added to the Diocese of Savannah in 1936). Thus, Pope St. Pius X was chosen as the co-Patron of the new Diocese, after the Most Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Cathedral being dedicated to Our Blessed Lord, Christ the King). The See was elevated to Metropolitan status in 1962.

My chalice (a gift from my mother, which I acquired at an online churchware site) has a connection to Pope St. Pius X. Inside the base plate are the words, "Offert Par PP Pie X" (in French -- "Offered by Pope Pius X) and his motto, "Omnia Instaurare in Christo." According to the dealer notes, this chalice, made in the Vatican during the reign of Pope Pius IX (his arms are on the node), was a gift to the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon, by Pope Pius X. I have no real way of verifying this claim, however. Still, it gives me great joy to think that the chalice that has come into my stewardship for the duration of my priesthood in this earthly life, was associated with this saintly Pope.

In 1955, Pope St. Pius X's feast was assigned to September 5, which is when it is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, as a feast of the IIIrd class. In the reformed calendar, his feast is an obligatory Memorial, celebrated on August 21, the day after his death (August 20 being reserved to St. Bernard, a Doctor of the Church).

Through the intercession of St. Pius X, may we gain a greater love and zeal for the Most Holy Eucharist, a love for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a desire to learn and defend the true faith against errors and heresy, and may be invite the Holy Spirit to make all things new in Christ in our own lives.

UPDATE: I forgot completely to mention the first-class relic of Pope St. Pius X which I acquired in seminary.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Life in Christ: Twenty Years On

Twenty years ago today, on this great Solemnity of Our Lady, I was baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, to rise with Him in the Resurrection. I was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and received my Lord and Savior in the Most Holy Eucharist for the first time as I was incorporated into his Mystical Body, His Bride, the Church,

What a ride it's been! The Lord's mercies are everlasting! In a talk back in 2001, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said these remarkable words, which burned into my soul as I read them the night of his election to the Throne of St. Peter:

"Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. ... I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin."

I know this to be so true. He has sought me in so many ways all these years. I have returned but a meager love, a paltry love, halting and meandering; a reluctant, reticent, repentance; a heart mired in self-love, that hearkens still to the sibilant sound of sin; a heart that has been and is, so haughty and oh so prideful. Yet He loves.

Yet He loves.

He never stops. His grace, one sweet drop at a time, burning and delightful, tears down the walls of pride, and heals the wayward will. The old man dies, as the new man laboriously comes forth.

Absorbeat quaeso, Domine, mentem meam et cor meum, ignita et meliflua vis amoris tui, de omnibus quae in mundo sunt, ut amore amoris tui moriar, qui amore amoris mei dignatus es mori.

"May my soul and my heart, O Lord, be absorbed, I pray, by the fiery honey-like power of your love, from all that is in the world, so that I may die for love of your love, who deigned to die for love of my love." (St. Francis)

Sweet Mother, who have been so faithful, so devoted to me, this unworthy fool, draw me ever closer to Him. On this anniversary of my consecration to Christ in holy baptism, I consecrate myself again to you, to your Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Pray that one day after traversing this land of exile, I will rejoice with you and the Heavenly Host, to behold Him face to face, your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, the desire of the nations, my Lord, my Savior, my King, my joy, my love, my all.

Please join me in praying a Te Deum today!

[This was posted on Facebook on August 14, 2014] 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

:: UPDATE: I accepted the challenge. See post. 

Folks, this "Ice Bucket Challenge" from the ALS Association has been doing the rounds and going viral. It's a good cause, to support research into ending this terrible neurodegenerative disease (aka "Lou Gehrig's Disease"). I had been tagged in one of videos and was actually thinking of a creative way to douse myself with ice water (ok not much creativity required there), while also donating.

There's a problem however.

The ALS Association apparently supports embryonic stem-cell research. The have actively lobbied for the expansion of federal funding for ESCR. This means that part of the money you donate will be used to do research on tiny innocent human beings. The ALSA page on stem cell therapy only hints at "ethical questions" raised by ESCR, but doesn't say more at all, and goes on to talk about the potential of this research. There is no way, therefore, that I can support this challenge, or give money to a cause, no matter how worthy, which also involves the destruction of innocent human life.

Research involving stem cells from adult tissue (bone marrow, spinal fluid, etc.) is not only very promising, but does not involve the destruction of innocent human persons.

We definitely need to support those who are looking for a medical cure for ALS, or any of the other horrific diseases that afflict humanity. But doing evil directly, so good may come of it,is never permissible.

I am sharing a link from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City which lists major organizations that actively support or not support embryonic stem cell research. This is worth paying attention to.

On a completely separate note, a Time magazine article I link in the comments raises some other questions about this kind of a social media blitz. It's worth taking a look at. (Ironically, the author alludes to the principle of "ends not justifying the means." He uses it to talk about the nature of the media campaign. However, he seems unaware of the ethical issues surrounding embryonic stem-cell research.)

[I originally posted this on Facebook.]

Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Family Life Office: Survey of Medical Research Foundations & Associations.

Time: "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, we need to do better." 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bom Jesus

I've been to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa several times. It is a beautiful and powerful experience each time. Last summer was the first time I offered Mass at the tomb of the great missionary, St. Francis Xavier. The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is one of the top tourist destinations in Goa, a state otherwise known for its beaches and susegad, a carefree approach to life (and alcohol), uncharacteristic of the rest of India.

Last year, the Rector of the Basilica shared stories of miraculous healings, as well as exorcisms associated with the relics of St. Francis, and of folks coming from far away, even non-Christians, who had heard of the saint's powerful intercession. He also let me venerate one of the first class relics of the Saint, which is kept at the foot of the altar of the tomb.

Panorama of the Sacristy
Yesterday, the Rector was out of town, but had left instructions with the Sacristan to set up for Mass for me. The sacristy itself is simply stunning, with several relics of holy martyrs, and beautiful artwork. I arrived early (by Indian standards), just before 10:00 a.m. There were few tourists and pilgrims. I had brought along my 1962 travel Missal and altar cards. With no congregation, I figured this would be an excellent time to offer Mass in the usus antiquior (even without a maniple, or a chalice veil and burse!). As with other sites of pilgrimage, one is able to offer the Mass of the patronal feast throughout the year.

Visiting priests normally offer Mass on an altar on the side of the tomb. There is little room there for any congregation. A metal grate, normally locked, seals access from the corridor. My (Hindu) cousin had came along with me, and he stayed for Mass. Soon after Mass started, I became aware of someone assisting, on the other side of the grate. It was an older gentleman, who heard Mass quietly and received Holy Communion.

The incorrupt remains of the holy saint attract the faithful as well as the curious. This year is the decennial exhibition of his relics, from Nov. 22, 2014 through Jan 4, 2015. They're expecting up to 5 million to attend, and though the Holy Father was invited, he will not be attending.

The website of the basilica.

The rather threadbare Wikipedia entry.

The rest of the photos from this year's visit.

Last year's photos

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Riding the Maglev

Back at Pudong airport, I charged my depleted phone and ate something mildly flavorful at an airport restaurant. At 4:30, I went to the Maglev station, in between Terminals 1 & 2. The train is pretty amazing. It takes 8 minutes for the run between Pudong Airport and Longyang Road station, some 30km (18.75 miles) away. A small display shows you the speed. Today, it hurtled past the traffic, trees and buildings at 301 km/h (188 mph). This is the fastest commercially operating train in the world. It runs every 15 minutes during the day. A round trip ticket costs 80 CNY (~13 USD). I got out of the station at Longyang Road, sipped a drink at the McDonalds and headed back to the airport.

301 km/h
Bags retrieved, checked in to the flight to Delhi at 21065, immigration, security check, changed my remaining yuan back to dollars. Now it’s time to head out from behind the Great Firewall of the People’s Republic to India.

zài jiàn, zhōngguó! 
(Tuesday, July 8)

Mother of China

Mass in the hotel room in suburban Shanghai
I celebrated Holy Mass in the hotel room early in the morning, then repacked stuff and went down for breakfast. The hotel has a half-finished feel about it. The vast dining room had an array of vegetables, noodles, soups and other unidentified eatables. I wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous and nibbled at a few things. For some reason, I avoided the bacon.

View from the hotel room
The hotel’s free WiFi suddenly allowed access to Gmail via the mobile app. I sent a brief update to blogger via email. Nothing else worked. At 9:00 a.m., I was on board a small bus, heading back to Pudong airport. My Japanese friends from last night were in front of me and we shared brief biographical stories. (Mine always elicits further questions, as you can imagine).

At 9:15 we were at the airport. First task, exchange my Japanese Yen for Chinese Yuan, then deposit my check-in bags at the baggage drop. At the arrivals level, vendors from various kiosks yelled across the way at me. “Hello sir, hotel! Taxi! Phone!” I ignored them. I got a Chinese data SIM card (100 CNY for 300 MB. Daylight robbery, but I was stuck). The guy at the counter asked if I wanted to hire a car. I showed him the Wikipedia page for the Sheshan basilica. “Oh very far. 70 km.” He then quoted an exorbitant price for a taxi. I said I’d think about it. The price dropped 300 yuan. I walked away and for the next 30 minutes attempted to figure out if there was an easy way to get to the Basilica of Our Lady of Sheshan using public transportation. There was very little information available. Given the time and distance, I decided to shell out the money to hire a car, and got a pricey, but lower quote from another counter. 5 minutes later, I was in a Toyota minivan, zooming out into the concrete jungle of Shanghai.

The driver, Liu, an affable fellow in his 30s, had never heard of the Basilica. His English was limited. I pulled up various websites with the name and approximate address of the Basilica in Chinese. He worked both his phones. “Songjiang region. Yes. Sheshan area. You know?” Finally, several grunt-filled conversations later, a smile. “I have!”

The China Eastern Adventure: Part II

Into the Twilight Zone

MU521 landed at about 4:20 pm, 30 minutes or so behind schedule. By 4:50, we were boarding. The flight to Shanghai was actually quite nice. 2h45m on an A321. MU’s J cabin is quite decent – no lie flats on a day flight, but a respectable angle-flat seat. The food was quite good. No IFE. This gave me the opportunity to read and then take a nap.

Approach into Shanghai Pudong

Not unlike reading Pravda 
It was dusk by the time we landed at Shanghai’s Pudong International airport, at about 7:30 p.m. By 8:10 p.m., I was through immigration and had collected my bags. I then went to the supervisor at the Transfer desk to ask about the hotel. He looked at my itinerary as I explained. “Hotel? Ok. Wait here.” He pointed at the seats and waved me off. I waited some 15 minutes then went back to the counter. “Yes yes. Wait.”

What a contrast from Japan, where everyone is incredibly polite and courteous! One notices this as well with lines – the Japanese will line up in a respectable, orderly fashion.  The Chinese jostle and push, like Indians.

There was a Japanese couple waiting for a hotel. We struck up a conversation – they’re on their way to Phnom Penh (Cambodia), and were in the same boat.


All attempts at getting online failed. The airport WiFi went to a login screen that was only in Chinese. I’d read that one had to have a registered Chinese cell phone in order to log in. Neither my Indian or US SIM cards would actually connect to a mobile data network.

At about 8:50 p.m. the supervisor barked something in our direction. A China Eastern attendant appeared and asked us, relatively politely, to follow her. We walked through customs (the two officials looked half asleep), up one floor, past various counters tantalizingly selling local SIM cards and persona WiFi devices, to a hotel van that already was quite full. “Please, luggage,” the attendant said and absorbed herself in her cell phone. The driver jumped out and opened the luggage door and went back to his seat. (This morning, when I approached the Ritz in Tokyo – drenched in the pouring rain, to catch the bus to Narita, a helpful attendant took my bags, and pointed me to a seat in the lobby.). The Japanese couple and I rearranged all the bags to fit ours in, and we squeezed into the minivan, loaded to capacity.

There followed a 20 minute ride through the twilight zone. A short run on an expressway, and then one broad tree-lined street to another, left then right. Then left again. I soon lost count. At about 9:20 we pulled up to a giant concrete structure called “Li Hao Hotel.” The lobby looked deserted. It was gaudily decorated. It looked like this was a front for the mob.

I was the first to the check-in counter, half unlit. “Economy class two person per room. You pay more if you want your own room.” What a racket! Luckily, I'm on a business itinerary,* so I got my own room, which is actually quite comfortable.

Comfortable room
WiFi is available only on the ground floor. After a shower, feeling somewhat refreshed, I went down. One logs in using one’s room number and the last six digits of one’s passport. The People’s Republic wants to know who’s online! For whatever reason, my laptop simply would not connect. On my phone, I could get to Yahoo, and the Archdiocesan email, but that’s it. Not Google, Google Voice, Blogger, Facebook. None of my apps worked. I looked up a few details on Pudong Airport for tomorrow, and now it’s to bed.

I hope to get up early, say Mass in my hotel room, and then make it back to the airport, store my bags, get WiFi, and get a car to take me to Our Lady of Shesan.

(Monday, July 7)

* The ticket was bought for me, in case you're wondering, which you are if you're reading this. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Mother of China

Pray for us.
More when I get out from behind the Great Firewall.
Fr. Gaurav Shroff
St. Joseph Catholic Church, Athens GA
(sent from my mobile phone)